New Laws Impact Ex-Offenders

In 2007 and 2008, the Maryland General Assembly passed a series of new laws that reduce barriers for ex-offenders.  These laws changed Maryland’s approach to criminal record expungement, and created the nation’s first Child Support Incentive program.  On February 20, 2009, JOTF hosted a forum to share details on how these changes are being implemented and how they can improve outcomes for ex-offenders.  The forum was sponsored by the Open Society Institute, and featured speakers from the Homeless Person's Representation Project (HPRP) and the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR).

First, Carolyn Johnson from HPRP discussed two new expungement laws.  The first, passed in 2007, mandates the automatic expungement of arrests without charge.  Employers are often reluctant to hire job applicants with criminal records, which list not only convictions, but nearly all non-conviction dispositions.  Before the passage of this law, that included arrests.  Often individuals are arrested, but never charged with any kind of crime.  This new law ensures that when someone is not charged, it will not negatively impact their employment prospects by putting a black mark on their record.  Since the process is automatic, there is no cost or paperwork required for this type of expungement.

Ms. Johnson also shared the details of a 2008 law that makes it possible to expunge convictions for minor nuisance crimes, such as loitering or panhandling.  Many of these nuisance crimes are associated with homelessness.  No other convictions, including crimes related to drugs, theft and violence, are currently eligible for expungement.  Under the new law, ex-offenders may apply for a nuisance crime expungement after a 3-year waiting period.  HPRP and the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service can help low-income residents with the process.  The new law can help those with minor convictions to clean up their record, and improve their employment prospects.

Representatives from DHR’s Office of Child Support Enforcement discussed the Child Support Incentive program, passed into law in 2007 and implemented in 2008.  The program encourages non-custodial parents to make their court-ordered child support payments by offering the opportunity to eliminate state-owed arrears.  Thousands of low-income non-custodial parents have accumulated unpayable child support debt as a result of a change in their economic status, such as joblessness or incarceration.  This debt is owed to the state because custodial parents who receive public assistance benefits are required to sign over child support rights to the state. This debt is often overwhelming, and serves as a disincentive for debtors to engage in mainstream work, since the principal collection method is wage garnishment.  The new program encourages non-custodial parents to find legitimate employment and do right by their children.  If participants remain current on their existing child support orders for two years, the state will gradually eliminate state-owed debt.

For more information about the event, please contact Andrea Payne at (410) 234-8303.

For help with expungement, contact HPRP at (410) 685-6589.

For details on the Child Support Incentive Program, or to request brochures, contact DHR at (800) 332-6347.

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